Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Open Source For Business


Nothing can give better endorsement than to show where Linux succeeds. We all know businesses use Linux but sometimes we are hard pressed to name them in discussions. Most everybody knows of Ernie Ball but what about AutoZone, Wal-Mart and others and government entities. The list below comes from

Please go to the web site for more information on each company listed.

Amerada Hess Corporation - Oil Exploration Supercomputing - Amerada Hess Corp is a $7.4 billion petroleum company, but the supercomputers traditionally used to analyze oil exploration data are rather costly even for a company of this size. No longer a problem. Amerada Hess now uses a large Linux cluster for the job.Amerada Hess Corporation

 BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) - Light Rail Metropolitan Transit System - This system tracks the flow of electricity from the high voltage DC power lines of Pacific Gas and Electric to the distribution of electricity via the third rail. If an emergency required the evacuation of a train, this system would be used to turn off the electricity to ensure the safety of passengers as they exited the system.

 Boscov's Department Stores - special invoicing, server consolidation, Web site, etc. - Boscov's, America's largest family owned department store chain, has been steadily moving it's back office operations to Linux, and will probably eventually migrate POS (Point of Sale) systems as well.

 Burlington Coat Factory - Entire Systems - Burlington Coat Factory is a "Factory Outlet" retailer with 280 stores in 42 states. Initial Linux installations at their new distribution center and a few new stores proved highly successful, so roll-out to existing stores began. An order for 1,250 Dell computers preloaded with Linux was placed to support the effort.
The Linux systems are used to run warehousing and distribution, the gift registry and back office functions such as ordering and general desktop. The chosen office productivity suite is Applixware Office, which allows a very high degree of customization.

 Conoco - Oil Exploration Supercomputing - Conoco is one of several major petroleum companies that have chosen to use inexpensive Linux clusters instead of costly supercomputers to analyze oil exploration data.

 Cisco - Worldwide Printing System - Cisco, a $21 billion maker of routers that tie the Internet together, signed a major agreement with Microsoft regarding support for Active Directory. As part of that deal, Cisco management declared Cisco an "all Microsoft" company.
Unfortunately, Cisco's IT staff couldn't get network printing services to work right through NT servers (and you can't say Cisco engineers don't understand networking, now, can you?). Cisco's worldwide printing services now run on Linux.

 Digital Domain - Visual Effects Supercomputing - Digital Domain is a major visual effects studio. In particular, they did the visual effects for Appolo 13 and Titanic. The effects for Titanic were particularly demanding, too demanding for their SGI Inigos, and would have normally required a supercomputer costing millions. Digital Domain was able to do the job on an inexpensive Linux cluster instead.

 Ernie Ball Inc. - Entire Operation - Ernie Ball was one of those unfortunate companies turned over to the BSA (Business Software Aliance) by someone with a grudge. While few "infractions" . There's hardly a small business anywhere that has all the paperwork together for their software, and while few "infractions" were found, that was enough to be very costly. Ernie Ball decided this would never happen again and made a very successful migration to Linux.

 Garden Grove California, City of - major operations - The City of Garden Grove began moving operations to Linux in 1995 with central data systems running Samba and the Pick database. The initial deployment was so successful and saved so much money the city has been gradually moving other operations to Linux, including some desktop systems.

 Google - Search Engine - The wildly popular Google search engine simply would not be possible without a customized version of Linux fit exactly to its needs.

 Just Sports USA - A fast growing chain (now 50 stores) selling sports items - All Stores, Back Office functions, Inventory and eCommerce systems run on Linux. All functions are integrated together using a PostgreSQL database. The eCommerce system runs on Linux / Apache Web servers and is also integrated with the inventory database. Postgre and Apache are also Open Source products.

 Kaiser Aluminum - Manufacturing Control - Kaiser, one of the world's largest producer of aluminum, aluminum sheet and foil, has chosen Linux for many applications on the manufacturing floor. It works side by side with Unix, Windows NT and specialty "real time" operating systems.

 Largo Florida, City of - City office desktop systems. - Largo has about 400 thin client workstations running the KDE Desktop from a Linux server. Database workloads were migrated from SCO Unix, AIX and Windows NT servers for a multi-million dollar savings. Largo figures its IT budget is about half that of other cities its size. Using thin clients provides a low cost, very low maintenance, uniform and easily administered computing environment for all city users. At peak, there are about 230 simultaneous users.

 Lawson Inc. (Japan) - In-Store Consumer Web Ordering System - Lawson, a giant convenience store chain (7,600 stores) in Japan, will be placing two Linux based computers in each store to implement it's new Web ordering system. The over 15,000 computers will be purchased from IBM pre-configured with Linux installed.

 Mexico City - government of - Everything! - The government of Mexico City have concluded they can no longer justify the ever rising cost of Microsoft Windows when the cost of Linux software is very low. Linux has already proven itself in the city's motor vehicle licensing agency and in the Mexican school system. Money saved will be used in social welfare programs.

 Mobil Travel Guide - Major Consumer Web Site - This Exxon division found Linux ideal both from a cost/performance standpoint and for scalability as the division grows.

 Omaha Steaks - On-Line Commerce - Advertisements for this mail order company can be found in the back of most up-scale home oriented magazines. They were running their internal systems on an IBM AS/400 and outsourced their Web site, but they wanted to tie the on-line ordering directly into the AS/400. A cluster of Linux servers now runs the Web site and connects to the AS/400.

 Panasonic - Major Electronics Manufacturer - Panasonic's popular DBS business telephone system included a voicemail system based on Windows NT, but it was a bit pricy. To be more competitive in smaller businesses, Panasonic developed a system incorporating 1CTI's Linux based voice mail software. The Linux based system has been so well accepted by the customers the Windows based system is being discontinued.

 Raymour & Flanigan - Furniture Chain (50 stores in Northeast) - The store chain has trnsferred most of its servers to Linux, and is replacing Windows 98 PC with Linux based "thin client" workstations in its service centers. Inventory and other databases are now being migrated from Microsoft Access running on Windows servers to Oracle running on Linux.

 Royal Dutch/Shell - Oil Exploration Supercomputing - One of the world's largest petroleum companies, Royal Dutch/Shell could certainly afford the supercomputers traditionally used to analyze oil exploration data, but why do that when your competitors are using inexpensive Linux clusters to do the job. Royal Dutch/Shell has decided to set up a bigger Linux cluster than the ones it's competitors have.

 Tommy Hilfiger - Clothing Brand - Note: website designed by idiots won't let you in at all without Flash plug-in. The company is installing three Linux based portals running on IBM xSeries servers. The first provides remote access to data on the company's IBM iSeries (AS/400) datacenter computers. The second provides access for clothing manufacturers to designs and specifications. The third provides B2B eCommerce access to retailers and a company store for employees. Company officials say the Linux systems provide the required performance at a lower cost than any other platform.

 Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. - Dealer Communications System - Toyota is installing a Linux based system connecting all its car dealers to it's factory. This is a Web based system from the ground up, and will be handling 30 different functions including parts ordering, warranties, sales transactions and repairs.

 Travelocity - Travel Agency - Travelocity is the back-end system for the travel services offered by AOL, Yahoo and US Airways. It's Web site gets 11 million page views and 170,000 email transmissions a day. The system is being migrated to Linux and Java.

 U.S. Army - major military organization - The U.S. Army's Land Warrior program, the first stage of a far reaching battlefield information and communications system, leads a general move to Linux. The Army says that "Evidence shows that Linux is more stable". Apparently the Army has issues with Microsoft's "blue screen of death".

 U.S. Federal Courts - case management, case tracking, finance and accounting, probation and pretrial services - A support contract has been awarded (Nov-03) to PEC Solutions for migration of the Federal Judiciary to a Linux based system.

 U.S. Postal Service - OCR Supercomputing - The Postal Service had declared itself an "all Windows NT" house, but you can't use NT for what it simply can't do - so they now sort all the bulk mail on over 900 Linux clusters scattered around the country (at less than half the cost of the next cheapest solution (and that wasn't NT either)).
The OCR (Optical Character Recognition) system uses scanners that were already in place. The Linux system consists of 5 rack mounted PCs, one to handle the scanners and sorting equipment, and 4 to share the computational tasks.

 WesternGeco - Oil Exploration Supercomputing - IBM has built a Linux based supercomputer for analysis of seismic data. This machine is built from 256 IBM eServer xSeries. This is the second largest Linux cluster IBM has built for oil exploration, the largest being the 1024 xSeries cluster for Shell.

This list is far from complete. It doesn't include the U.S. Navy, Air Force or Marines. There are several other companies that use Linux as well. Some use it in speciality applications and some are using it to replace Windows entirely. IBM isnt mentioned despite the infamous challenge to its employees to go from the Windows Desktop to the Linux Desktop.

Really Linux has a very comprehensive guide for small businesses to move to Linux. With so much to show and with guides to help why are we still finding it so challenging to get Linux moved into the small business community?

The main reason is we are still fighting F.U.D. (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) like this one here.

We have to create real life comparisons and show higher reliability compared to MS. Which is very simple to do. TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) proof that Linux reduces costs overall. Is more secure, reliable and just as easy to use.

If we are ever going to expand the use of Linux we must not only target home users but businesses as well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Myth Busting: "Its Illegal To Remove Windows From A Computer."

If you ever hear this argumnet then you need to say just two simple words, "Prove it." The reality is they can't. I was going to do a bit of research on this but there is nothing to research. Matter of fact when I did a web search at Google all I found was piracy hacks and methods to remove illegal copies of MS software.

Short run, no where in the MS EULA is there such a statement. Simply because said statement itself would be illegal under Federal Law. (IANAL but any good IP lawyer can prove this.) Do an internet search using a law search engine, nope not there.

This myth is not perpetuated by MS but they don't discourage it either. Truth is the myth is usually spewed out as a defense by MSCE types and other MS advocates to keep the status quo going. They fear change, and any inclusion of Linux, replacement of Windows by Linux etcetera is a definite change. They don't know Linux, don't use Linux and feel that Linux can never be a better alternative to the current MS offering.

I was looking for a way to defeat this mythy, lie. However, in this case the simple truth slices right through it. Just two words do it, "Prove it."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Proper Promotion Of Linux As An Alternative

The Linux community needs to be a lot more professional if before we can take the desktop market from MS.

Recent blog posts, news articles and comments has brought to light that we, as a community, are not properly promoting Linux. I say this because the community is not helping itself and many statements are rude and vulgar. This does not, and never will, help promote Linux. If we are ever going to bring Linux to main stream users then we need to look at how to educate people on its abilities, usage and advantages.

Usage of derogatory remarks, vulgar language, hateful attitudes and militaristic ideals will never help convert users to the Linux desktop. Instead we need to become helpful and available. We cannot keep the RTFM attitude going anymore. Its this attitude that has held Linux back from adoption in main stream usage and we are simply shooting ourselves in the foot when we use it.

There are several ways to promote Linux that are for more positive and that help convert people to using it without making them feel put off. The community overall already does this but unfortunately the majority is not as vocal as the those whom spew the damaging remarks, attitudes and statements.

Lets take a good look at what it takes to properly promote Linux to people.

Attitude Is Everything:

Negativity will repel people, while positive and helpful attitudes will make them feel welcome. Overall, the latter is the desired outcome. This means we need to be ready, willing and able to answer questions. Regardless of their simplicity, level of understanding and even if it seems like something a user should already know. Trust me when I say there is no such thing as a stupid question, but there are stupid answers.

I have worked help desk support off and on over the years and what I have learned is this, there are people whom just have no understanding of the computer in front of them. This happens in the Windows world more often. Considering that most new computer users are using Windows instead of Linux it happens a lot more often there than it does in the Linux world. However, there will still be those that don't understand the difference between a left mouse click and a right mouse click and the modifiers. Matter fact most base level Windows users don't even know that certain keyboard keys can modify the mouse click at all. This also holds true in Linux.

We have to remember, and understand, when we answer questions that just because we know the answer that they may not. A reply that makes those asking the question feel stupid or insulted is not helping and instead makes people decide Linux is not for them. When someone asks a question it means they want to learn, and its our responsibility to help them learn.

Demonstrate Linux:

Start by showing Linux and the programs available for it. This is easily done and if you know what your doing you can create a Live DVD that is loaded with all the programs, codecs and features to show that it is extremely capable. Of course this DVD should never be distributed for legal reasons, however you can have base distribution CDs and DVDs available to hand out.

If you are lucky and have a decent laptop then you have a demonstration system right there, especially if there is an Internet connection available to you at the time. Here's a fact; most people, approximately ninety percent, use their computers for three basic functions, Internet, email and word proccessing, another five percent use spreadsheets and accounting software. With OpenOffice and Firefox Linux meets these needs easily. You can demonstrate this very easily with a laptop. Play videos, music and DVDs for the interested party you are demonstrating the system to.

To properly show what linux can do educate yourself on the various different server programs, security options and features built in or installable. I say this because there will be times when the final five percent will show an interest and even if you can't demonstrate those abilities you can explain them and answer some questions. You don't need to be an expert but having a base general knowledge of the subject will allow you discuss them intelligently.

Get Involved With The Linux Community:

Writing How Tos, articles and being part of a local LUG are things anyone can do. If you can code get involved with a project. Even if you can't code you can still help a project, like I do.

Use and help at the forums as well. By plugging into the community you stay up to date with changes in Linux in general.

Also use more than one distribution. This allows you to understand the differences in how things are done in each. This way you understand the community as a whole and not just from one perspective.


Of all the things I discussed the most important is attitude. Our attitudes towards people have more impact than anything else. Knowledge and expertise alone is not enough. Proper promotion requires we be open, friendly and professional to help new Linux users.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Evolution Of An GNU Project

I'm proud of my involvement with the GnoMenu project and even though I am going to use it as the example (when you write, go with what you know) this post really isn't about GnoMenu. Rather its to show what community involvement can do and how sharing ideas can improve a project.

First off any GNU Open Source project is a community effort. Yes there are project leaders but if they do their jobs right its more about guiding and moving the project in a forward and positive direction. That is exactly what happend in the scenario I'm about to discuss.

First lets be honest GnoMenu is a fork of another project the "Gnome Vista Start Menu" by Chris Hughes. Most hard core Linux users looked at the menu Chris did as a cheap Vista look alike. In some ways it was but Chris also stated that other menu designs were possible yet no one really bothered to pay attention. Well almost nobody. Enter Helder Fraga who took Chris' work and forked it into GnoMenu.


This is the original basic look of GnoMenu. Very Vista like. Meanwhile Helder and I start working on GnoMenu through Launchpad. He works on the coding and bug fixes while I start handling documentation and bug tracking. I also find myself answering questions and writing blueprints not much later. I am also trying to recruit people to help the project move forward and trying to look for ways to improve the product. On my suggestion Helder gets GnoMenu to be system color aware but it also has a unique feature as well. I realized that sometimes menu themes may have and use unique color schemes so I wrote the blueprint stating that theme creators needed a way to toggle the system color awareness off if it would interfere with the theme. We now have what I like to refer to as intelligent color awareness in GnoMenu. Intelligent in the sense that it can be shut off if menu theme designers don't want the menu to be system color aware. Yet, GnoMenu will be system color aware otherwise.

So Helder is fixing bugs and adding features. One of the blueprints he writes states that GnoMenu needs a default menu that is not so Vista like. In response Helder creates this look.


This was more a step backwards in many respects since many features were no longer available. Though for GnoMenu's future it was necessary. Why, because it forced change in how we looked at menu designs and what it was we wanted GnoMenu to be. It also forced Helder to make GnoMenu compliant to Gnome's Menu standards. It also stopped us from reinventing the wheel and made us get more serious about the future of this project.

The holidays role around and Helder goes on a hiatus to handle personal issues and be with his family. I in the meantime find myself getting pounded with a whole lot of questions and bug reports which I sort through and file appropriately. I make FAQs and blueprints. Validate some bugs and assign them to an appropriate release. Discover there are themes out there that don't like GnoMenu and with help get the fix. Though small there is a community of GnoMenu users out there and they're helping me by providing information and tracking down those unique if not down right out of the Twilight Zone issues.

Finally things calm down and I get a chance to go back and look at the menu design. Helder's design was just terrible and it ruined many things that made GnoMenu great. So what do I do in response. I make this mockup and post it at Gnome-Look to get feed back on it.


The responses were mixed but everybody did like the idea of using Icons instead of words. The fact is we humans are visually orientated creatures. The use of words is something our brain has to be trained to do. Don't get me wrong, reading is very important but we recognize visual cues much easier. It is the main reasons that television became such a powerful and popular form of media delivery. It is second to none, even the Internet. Though as more contect becomes available on the Internet we will eventually be using it to get our television shows and information feeds.

Next step is the community gets involved and two days after my mock up design is posted we have this design pop up.


Even the still on hiatus Helder popped in a comment on this Theme. It broke the mold. (By the way, this is an actual working theme.) Its a large menu theme and just a bit disorganized but it raised the bar and immediately brought more life to GnoMenu and Both Helder and I were duly impressed. So impressed that there wasn't much doubt how the new default theme was going to be laid out.

I created this layout as a possible canidate:


Much smaller, a bit more polished and very professional looking. Now I'm not saying this is, or will be, the next default theme for GnoMenu 1.7. What I'm saying is that because we stepped back and reworked our ideas GnoMenu evolved. We took our ideas to the community and got an explosive response in return. So explosive GnoMenu took a major leap forward with a whole new look and feel. One that is much more Gnome centric and yet beatiful and functional.

Now if your saying to yourself that I did nothing but talk about GnoMenu then you missed the whole point. That community driven projects can and, in many cases, do outpace closed sourced development cycles. Here's why, ideas pile up on each other as each person whom gets involved takes the idea of the previous person and adds to or improves it. In my case I wanted to return functionality without destroying Helder's desire to have something completely different from a Vista look a like. That was the main driving reason for the Icon usage. Plus it has another major advantage. Words are not universal, pictures and images are. Words have to be translated to languages others can read, pictures and images do not. So long as they follow a universal concept. This effectively solves a major issue in translation problems. Though we still have to do it, the pressure to do so will be a lot less.

ZWS the creator of the Black White Theme probably had very different motives behind his design but none the less he made a huge impact. An impact that will carry GnoMenu forward for a long time to come. Though on rare occassions this may happen in closed source development It is far more likely to happen when design and development is open to the public.

What I want to point out especially is that by taking my basic idea and throwing it out and making sure people knew that it could be done, it did. Far better than I expected it to as well. So very often I see projects that lose track of what it really means to be an open project. Anyone can add value and sometimes users have great ideas. To often we as project leaders fail to listen to those ideas. More often than not we should.